To trace the history of herbal medicine and find out its roots is not a menial task. Actually, no one really knows when exactly the history of herbal medicine began. However, recent archaeological findings revealed that plants were used in many early civilizations for burials and other rituals.
Some people argue that the history of herbal medicine started in China in 2800 BC. And while the earliest written account of herbal remedies was indeed found in that Asian country, the history of herbal medicine and its earliest beginnings are, for the most part, unknown to modern man.
Like all things with history, the history of herbal medicine has a somewhat checkered past. It has gone in and out of favor with the great and common man. At one point, it was labeled as witchcraft and practitioners were persecuted as “witches” or “warlocks.”
However, in today’s modern world where there is a growing concern about the efficacy and side effects of many synthetic drugs, the history of herbal medicine has finally experienced vindication.
Here is a brief history of herbal medicines, including key dates when significant developments have been made:
History of Herbal Medicine — 2800-100 BC
Archaeological digs led to the discovery of an ancient text in China that dates back to 2800 BC. Called the Pen Ts’ao, this text was written by Shen Nung and is considered as the first written record of herbal medicines.
Circa 400 BC saw another significant event in the history of herbal medicine. According to historians, it was around this time that the first Greek herbal text was written. Also at this point in the history of herbal medicine, the famous father of all physicians, Hippocrates (of the Hippocratic Oath) developed the principles of diet, exercise, and happiness as the cornerstones of health.
History of Herbal Medicines — 50-1500 AD
By circa 50 AD, the Roman Empire had spread its influence across many nations, and consequently, herbal medicine and commerce of plants around the Empire.
A hundred and fifty years later, the herbal practitioner, Galen, created a system for classifying illnesses and their remedies. This system is one of the most important accomplishments in the history of herbal medicine.
The 1200s saw the plague, called the Black Death, spread its tentacles across Europe. Many traditional herbalists and apothecaries tried bleeding, purging, mercury, and arsenic to stem the epidemic with little success.
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